Things I Learned from Being Infertile – A Retrospective View
It is often said that only hindsight is 20/20.
This isn’t an entirely bad thing. A lot of times, knowing what will happen next would be a definite detraction from our lives. I mean, who’d care about the football match if we all knew who was going to win? The stock market would be useless. And obviously, surprise parties probably wouldn’t be a good idea anymore.
But when you’re struggling with fertility issues, ooooh boy wouldn’t it be nice to know what’s going to happen. Will we get pregnant this month? Will this or that treatment work? When will we finally have a family?
Obviously that is not to be. The only (at least somewhat) clear perspective is the retrospective. And that’s what I’m here to talk about. You see, after four wonderful and rewarding years, this will be my last regularly-scheduled blog post here at Slow Swimmers and Fried Eggs.
Cathy and I are several years out of our last treatment cycle, and as I’ve written aboutrecently, we have, gradually and not easily but over time, accepted our circumstances and built a wonderful life, even if it is a life very different than the one we’ve hoped for.
Before passing the proverbial baton, though, I do think that the years of treatment, of blogging, of podcasts and videos and interviews, have given me at least a little bit of that “clarity in retrospect” I referred to a moment ago. I wouldn’t presume to call them words of wisdom, I’m not that smart, but since I have always tried to offer practical tips and tricks, not just pedantic opinions, I’d like to offer a few of the most important things that, looking back now, I think I’ve learned in hopes they might be of help.
- Clueless comments: You cannot avoid the hurtful, biased, insensitive and clueless things muggles (where my Harry Potter fans at?Cathy’s term for fertile people) will say, even people who love you or are trying to be helpful. In fact, it’s those people who will usually, if inadvertently, hurt the most because what your friends and loved ones say and think about you matters most. There are numerous posts here at Slow Swimmers that offer help to deal with this, because there sure as heck isn’t any way to prevent it. In hindsight, I can see there really is some value in the experiences and strategies that both Cathy and Julia have shared. Check them out.
- Find your tribe: Like many other traumatic turns in life (e.g. cancer, grief, addiction etc.), no matter how much they might care about you and want to be of comfort, people who haven’t been there or work in the field, well, they just don’t get it. This is why support communities like this one exist. Talking, bonding and corresponding with people, the onlypeople, who understand what you’re going through can be a literal lifeline. Take full advantage of every source of support, camaraderie and understanding that these communities can offer.
- Check your ego at the door: Gentlemen, I’m talking to you here. When you’re having trouble making a baby, don’t think for one second that it’s a “female thing” (it isn’t) or get tied up dealing with the process. Trust me, the awkward and embarrassing bitsyou have to deal with ain’t nothin’ compared to what your better half will go through in treatment. Accept that this will be tough, and awkward, and emotionally draining and a challenge. Let the challenge for yourself and in support of your partner bring out the absolute best version of yourself, for her sake if not for your own.
- You are NOT an isolated occurrence:According to multiple reports, at least here in the US, up to 17% of couples struggle with some level of infertility. That’s one in six. The muggles, and society, your friends and family and coworkers, may all act like this is some wild corner case and, if you talk about it all, they get so uncomfortable you can end up feeling like a leper. Do NOT feel that way, and don’t let anyone make you feel that way. Forewarned is forearmed I say, so pre-made responses can be helpful, like “oh, 12% of child bearing-age women have fertility issues” or “you know, that’s what I thought too, until I found out how many of our friends were struggling as well. I think people should talk more about this, don’t you?” (That’ll put ‘em on the spot!)
- So talk more about it: Which brings me to my biggest takeaway of all. Over the years, I have written about how “no one talks about this stuff” many times. When it comes to the media, I was both right and wrong. But when it comes to the people around us, well, half this blog’s content is about all the things that need to be said, that our community needs to share, and the things we, as infertiles, wish the muggles understood. You know the only thing that will make the muggles more receptive? The only thing that will normalize this unfathomably (given the statistics) hidden epidemic? Talking about it. I will keep talking, whether they listen, when they choose not to listen, until we can all make them listen. Non illegitimi carborundum!
- Finally, I’d like to leave you with an interesting tale I recently heard, and it really tore me up after years of reading about infertility’s affect on our readers and many others. Depression.Thoughts of suicide. Identity crises. It’s a Japanese folk tale about an elderly school teacher who falls ill and, in a coma, travels to meet her ancestors on the very edge of death.
- “Who are you?” they ask her.
- “I’m the mayor’s wife,” she answers.
- “That isn’t what we asked you. Who are you?”
- “I’m the mother of four children, and grandmother of many more.”
- Again the reply comes: “That isn’t what we asked you. Who are YOU?”
- On and on it goes until she finally stops casting about with identity trappings and ornaments and understand that the question is who she is herself, as a human being, independent of her role in others’ eyes or others’ lives. Only then do her ancestors decide to allow her to recover and go back to earth to continue her important, if humble, work.
What’s my point? In the end, you are NOT first of all in life, a parent (current or future). You are, first and always, you, and a human being, a life and a soul of value, a manifestation of a living spirit, and independent greatness. We may all wish to be parents, but as we’ve written about many times here, it is never, neverall you are.